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May 20, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6443

Russian Reactions To Negotiations On Montenegro's NATO Membership

May 20, 2016
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6443

On May 19, 2016, the foreign ministers of NATO member states signed an accession protocol for Montenegro, granting it observer status at NATO meetings. The signing ceremony, which was attended by Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, took place at a North Atlantic Council (NAC) session in Brussels. The next step is that Montenegro will be granted membership to NATO once the accession protocol is ratified by all 28 NATO member states.

On December 2, 2015, NATO had invited Montenegro to join the military alliance, and the Balkan country accepted the invitation the following day.

The signing of the protocol triggered anger in Russia, which sees NATO's expansion eastward as a threat to its own borders. The permanent Russian mission to NATO's website published an article about Montenegro's membership to NATO, stating that the potential accession of Montenegro has caused a "particularly emotional reaction from the Russian side," explaining that "Russia and Montenegro are united by 300 years of close cooperation, with Russia contributing to the establishment and development of Montenegrin statehood in the 19th century and being among the first to recognize the country's independence from Serbia in 2006, with investment from Russian business serving as a strong driver for Montenegro's economic development since then."

Director of the Russian Balkan Center for International Cooperation, Viktor Kolbanovsky, stated that the "brotherly" Montenegro started to "politically betray" Russia by joining the EU's sanctions against Moscow in 2014 during the Ukranian crisis, and now the Balkan country has taken one more step toward the final breakup of traditional relations with Moscow.[1]

State Duma: Montenegro's Admission To NATO Is A Political Tool From The "Cold War Era"

In February, 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to Montenegro's admission as an "artificial decision."[2] Commenting on the issue of NATO's expansion eastward in 2014, Lavrov said that Montenegro's accession to NATO would be "irresponsible and provocative." In November 2015, the Russian Duma issued an appeal to Montenegro's parliament, stating that "involving states, especially against the will of their people [i.e. the Montenegrin people], in military alliances, are political tools from the Cold War era." In the statement, the Duma added that "the desire of the regime of [Montenegro's Prime Minister] Milo Djukanovic, who has been running Montenegro for 25 years, to join NATO contradicts the will of the overwhelming majority of the people of this country."[3]

Russia Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that Montenegro should decide whether or not to be a member of NATO only after a national referendum.[4] Russia believes that the majority of Montenegro population would vote against NATO accession.[5] Zakharova also added that Montenegro's membership to NATO is a "humiliation," since the country was bombed by NATO during the Yugoslavian crisis in the 1990s.

Russian permanent representative to NATO, Alexander Grushko, commented that NATO is making "another mistake," since it keeps on building "dividing lines" in Europe.[6] Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Duma Alexey Pushkov also commented on the issue, stating that since Secretary General of NATO Jens Soltenberg called on Russia to respect Montenegro's choice to become a member of NATO, then NATO has to recognize the choice made by Crimea to join Russia.[7]

Chair Of Russia's Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee: Montenegro's Admission To NATO Will Worsen European Security

Chairperson of Russia's Council of the Federation Committee on Foreign Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev, said that Montenegro's admission to NATO is "unnecessary" and untimely, and will "worsen the prospects of European security." Kosachev said: "This move will increase the risks for Montenegro - until now no one threatened the country, from now on the risks will be bigger... [There is] no way to justify this move but by stating that the expansion of NATO is a goal for itself... NATO in not the basis for European security but rather the main challenge, [and] that's why admitting additional countries is not a response to a challenge, but rather making the challenge worse." Kasachev added that Russia has to reconsider economic ties with Montenegro, since it cannot rule out that a ballistic missile defense system or "nuclear warheads" might be deployed in the Balkan country.[8]

On December 2, 2015, when Montenegro was invited by NATO to join the military alliance, Kosachev commented that the Balkan country's accession would be "regrettable," stating that "Montenegro has now been included in this mechanism of permanent reproduction of the 'cold war.'"[9]

However, military expert Viktor Murahovsky stated that NATO's choice to invite Montenegro is meaningless in military terms, since the Balkan country is just slightly above "zero" in terms of military power. Murahovsky said: "This [NATO] admission is a null in military terms, a null which will add a headache during decision-making processes. As for a possibility of having NATO bases in the Balkan country, NATO does not need that. It's just inconvenient - Montenegro is good for vacations, not for military installations."[10]


Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic shaking hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. (Source: Nato.int, May 19, 2016)

Kremlin's Press Secretary Peskov: NATO Expansion Will Result In Retaliatory Actions From Russia

Speaking on December 2, just after the news broke of NATO's invitation to Montenegro, the Kremlin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov "warned" that Russia would respond if Montenegro were to join the military alliance. Peskov said: "On various levels, Moscow has always noted that the continued eastward expansion of NATO and NATO's military infrastructure cannot but result in retaliatory actions from the east, i.e. from the Russian side, in terms of ensuring security and supporting the parity of interests".

Russia Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova also commented on the need to respond to NATO: "NATO's latest attempts at changing the military and political landscape in Europe, in particular, in the context of its outspoken policy of deterrence towards Russia, will inevitably affect Russia's interests and force it to respond proportionately. As for the just-signed protocol on Montenegro's accession ... it merely confirms the intention ... to accelerate the admission process to the maximum extent and make it irreversible." [11]

State Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak specified already back in December 2015 that Russia in retaliation will "limit our contacts in the economic and other spheres." [12]

Russia is also trying to support opposition parties to stop NATO's expansion. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that Russian ruling party United Russia has signed a declaration with the head of Montenegrin People's Democratic Party (PDP), Milan Knezevic, and the head of Montenegrin People's Socialist Party (PSP), Srđan Milić. The declaration states the will to establish neutral states in South-East Europe (Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina), and having Kosovo incorporated back to Serbia. This decision also seems motivated by the fact that Serbia has no intention of joining the ranks of NATO, even though the country is part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. [13] The declaration further states that the neutrality of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina should be guaranteed by both Russia and NATO.  It is worth noting that the PDP is against having a dialogue with the Montenegrin authorities and in favor of changing the government. In October 2015, Milan Knezevic was at the forefront of a protest in which 5,000 people marched on parliament to demand the resignation of  Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and immediate elections. [14]

Endnotes: 

[1] Missiontonato.ru, February 3, 2016.

[2] Sputniknews.com, February 10, 2016.

[3] Missiontonato.ru, February 3, 2016.

[4] Ria.ru, May 16, 2016.

[5] Missiontonato.ru, February 3, 2016.

[6] Ria.ru, May 16, 2016.

[7] Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, May 18, 2016.

[8] Tass.ru, May 18, 2016.

[9] Tass.ru, December 2, 2015.

[10] Aif.ru, May 19, 2016.

[11] Tass.ru, May 19, 2016.

[12] Missiontonato.ru, February 3, 2016.

[13] Sputniknews.com, March 9, 2016.

[14] Kommersant.ru, May 10, 2016.

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